By Melonie Flomer
HAMLET — Most young teens strive to be different; their conformity in that effort is sometimes amusing in its irony.
Laney Parker seriously does not want to fit in. The Hamlet Middle School seventh-grader uses her independence in the fight against smoking.
“Personally,” she said, “I hope I can be the outcast in my family and teach them to stop smoking.”
Students at Hamlet Middle School participated Wednesday in national Kick Butts Day. The initiative, coordinated by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is an annual day of youth leadership and activism designed to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking and the tactics used by big tobacco to push their products.
Shareese Powell, a public health educator with the Richmond County Health Department, kicked off the event in the gym this morning with the theme “Airing Out Big Tobacco’s Dirty Laundry.” She invited students to enter a poster contest and sign an anti-tobacco pledge.
In the cafeteria walls were decorated with clotheslines. Students were encouraged to bring an article of clothing, write an anti-smoking statement on it and hang it on the line as a visual means of protesting tobacco use. Parker brought in a pair of denim shorts.
Destiny Kinglee, another seventh grade student, hung her decorated shirt on the clothesline.
“It’s a good idea because a lot of people smoke, like, under peer pressure,” Destiny said.
Naqiubah Bernabela, a seventh-grader who wants to study genetic engineering, offered a solution.
“We should build a company to stop big tobacco,” she said.
A poster created by sixth-grader Fatima Jardai Tillman featured a boot aimed at 3-D model cigarettes and the words “Kick Butt.”
Powell believes Kick Butts Day delivers an important message.
“This is first time we’ve brought Kick Butts Day into the schools, and this is our only school this year, but it would be nice to expand to other schools as well,” she said. “We can’t enforce it. We can’t make them stop smoking, or keep them from smoking, but this way they can’t say they didn’t hear it.”
Powell has been with the health department since September. She looks forward to using her skills to improve the overall wellness of Richmond County residents by raising awareness of other health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and prescription drug safety.